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WRiTE CLUB 2021 - Preliminary Bout #1

The votes from our slush pile readers have been tallied and they have selected thirty to step into the ring against one another over the course of the next eight weeks. Even though the number of submissions was down this year, the quality of those who did enter wasn't. It was a tight race! Thank you once again to our awesome Slushpile Readers

I present to you the inaugural WRiTE CLUB 2021 bout.

Here's a reminder of what is happening. WRiTE CLUB (sponsored by Wild Lark Books) is a tournament-style contest that will run for nine weeks (which includes a week break for the holidays). It provides writers the opportunity to compete against one another for a chance to win a free publication package (along with other prizes). Here’s the kicker—it’s all done anonymously. Writers have submitted 500-word writing samples under pen names. The chosen (decided by a group of twelve slush pile readers) are paired off to go head-to-head in daily “bouts”, with the winner of each match determined by you the reader—by voting for your favorites. Bout winners keep advancing until there are only two remaining and that’s when a panel of celebrity judges, who include well know authors, agents, editors, and other publishing folks, choose the ultimate champion.

Anyone can vote (as long as you have a Google sign-in or verifiable email address), and when you do, we encourage you to leave a mini-critique for both writers. Oh, the voters can win a $50 Wild Lark Books gift card. Each time you vote in a bout your name will be placed into a hat and at the end of the contest, one name will be selected to receive the prize.

How this works—two anonymous (pen name only) writing samples are waiting in the ring below. Visitors to this blog (that’s you) should read both entries and then vote by leaving a comment for the one that resonates with you the most. We also ask that you leave a brief critique for both writers with your vote because that is one of the real values of this contest—FEEDBACK. Please be respectful with your remarks!

Even though there will be a different bout every day (M-F), the voting for each bout will remain open for seven days from the date I post it to give as many people as possible to have a say. Voting for today’s bout will close on Sunday, Dec. 12th (noon central time). To help keep up with which bouts are open, you can follow along on the WRiTE CLUB Scoreboard updated right HERE.

It’s that simple. The writing piece that garnishes the most votes will move on to the next round where they’ll face a different opponent. In case of a tie, I’m the deciding vote. I can do that because, like all of you, I do not know the real names of our contestants either (my wife processes all the submissions).

A few more rules –

1) One vote per visitor per bout.

2) Although our contestants are anonymous, voters cannot be. Anonymous votes will not count, so if you do not have a Google account and are voting as a guest, be sure to include your name and email address.

3) Using any method (email, social media, text, etc) to solicit votes for a specific contestant will cause that contestant's immediate disqualification. What is okay, in fact, encouraged, is to spread the word about the contest to get more people to vote, just not for a specific writer!

That’s enough of the fine print…here we go!

On one side of the ring stands Lil Manning representing the Humor genre.

 I’m Getting Kicked Out of My Pride 

I’ve said that I’ve had my fill of something a few times in my life.
I had enough in a ten-year marriage that was going south, and I had enough of alcohol. Maybe the latter was the reason for the divorce, possibly.

About eight years ago, I was in a Denny’s in Southwestern Virginia eating a hamburger. Okay, probably this wasn’t the best hamburger in the world but not the worst. I decided right then and there never to eat beef again. It was followed by eliminating pork, lamb, deer, and any other four-legged animal. 

Two years ago, as I was driving, I saw a truck full of chickens going to the Perdue plant. With feathers blinding my windshield and tears in my eyes, I was done with poultry too. I am a full-fledged vegetarian now.

My husband and my entire family are big carnivores.  They do not understand my new way of life at all.

“What are you going to eat for Thanksgiving?” my daughter asked soon after the poultry breakup.

After I said I would just eat side dishes, the whole family asked, “Why?”

They don’t get that I love animals that much. I looked beyond the packaged meat in supermarkets and realized that these were animals killed for my consumption.  

Not everyone shares my viewpoint; I am not meat-shaming them, but I take a lot of flack because of my beliefs. 

They argue with me that cattle are vegetarians, so in a way, they who eat cattle are too.

 It’s almost like that lame argument that guns don’t kill people; people kill people (with guns, asshole).

When I have a veggie burger, they tell me my plant is done, and then they watch me eat it as if I am eating shit.

They don’t understand that I don’t want to eat “Impossible Burgers.” My
“burger” doesn’t taste like meat; that’s the whole idea of being a vegetarian.  

When they eat vegetables, my grandchildren make noises; “Oh no, don’t kill me.” they say. I put up with a lot from this group.

They are about to kick me out of their pride, but I’m sticking to my beliefs.

 Lions get kicked out of their prides when they are old and no longer able to hunt. Maybe I’ll whip up some tofu stir-fry for them and show them there are other ways to get nourishment.

We can start our own pride--as long as they aren’t Republicans.
That’s another story.

On the far side of the ring, we have Fern Calloway who represents the Speculative Soft Horror genre.

Tasty Little Morsel

Though the cabin is gone, I can still smell her blood deep under the tangle of swings, see-saws and giggling children.

Most of them coatless. Their parents aren’t bothered; their noses buried in their phones.  How easy it would be to snatch up a pup. A detail the hunters won’t overlook either.

I crunch across the play-yard bark, gripping my basket tighter. The bench by the slide is vacant. I sit, adjusting my gloves and tugging down my sleeves. Best not to frighten the children.

“I like your glasses.” A small boy plops beside me.

“Better to see you with,” I say and wink, smiling to bare my teeth.

The boy kicks his feet. “Your hat is cool.”

They always like my hat.  It’s the long red plume tucked in the band. I keep it there for her; to remember.

My mind drifts to Little Red.

The boy is still talking and I turn to face him. “What was that, dear?”

“Your hat,” he says. “Can I hold it?” He’s already reaching for it.  

“Wait a minute,” I bark. “Let me unclip it, or you’ll take my hair too.”

“Your hair?” He laughs as I slip bobby pins from the wig covering my long, pointy ears.

I hand him the hat and he runs his paws over the feather. “Pretty.”

“She was,” I say. I’ve stopped listening. My gaze drifts over the playground. A hunter lurks here; I can smell him.


A man sits on a bench, watching the children with a hunger far more sinister than my own. He runs a finger down the outside of his thigh, licking his lips.

I yank my hat from the child, ignoring him as I stand and set it on my head. I weave between knee-highs and soiled twerps, my focus intent on him.

The man stops fidgeting when I sit, but doesn’t glance my way. I clear my throat and secure my hat.  His dark desires don’t sway enough to pay me any mind. He’s zeroed in on a blonde with pig-tails, four, maybe five years old flipping end over end on the tall bars, her little dress exposing cotton panties with every twirl.

“Excuse me,” I say, not bothering to hide my disgust.

“Yeah,” he says. I can tell I’ve disturbed him. Good.

I adjust my glasses on my long nose. “Which one is yours?” I know none of them belong to this huntsman.

He points to the twirling girl. She hangs upside down, her dress flopping over her sweet face. His gaze locks onto her bare midriff.

I cross my leg at the knee, turning toward him. “No. She doesn’t.”

He faces me. “Which one of them is yours, Granny?” He spits the words through tight lips.

“All of them,” I say and pull a hard candy from my pocket and pop it into my mouth, letting it clink against my pointy teeth.

All the better to eat you with.


Leave your votes and critiques in the comments below. Again, be respectful of your remarks and try to point out positives as well as detractions.

Before we sign off, I wanted to address the issue a few readers are having with not being able to post comments, or having those comments show up as UNKNOWN even though they have a Google Account.  There are several things at play here. First, if you are using the Safari or Chrome browsers they have a known problem with Blogger and you have two choices. Switch to Firefox as a browser (I've never had a problem using it), or change the setting on Safari as illustrated below.

The other problem is Blogger not recognizing you when adding a comment and therefore designating you as UNKNOWN. This could happen if the reader is a Blogger user themselves and they have not changed their settings since Google + went away.  To do this, follow these steps:

Go to Blogger dashboard.
Set User Profile = Blogger (instead of Google +)

Hopefully, that will resolve everyone's issues and let the votes/comments reach our contestants.

Finally, in order to keep this contest going AND GROWING, I'm asking folks to donate to the cause on my Ko-fi account. Let me assure you, 100% of the donations will go towards the contest prizes for this year and next!

We’ll be back tomorrow with bout #2. Please help all our writers out by telling everyone you know what is happening here and encouraging them to come vote.

This is WRiTE CLUB—the contest where the audience gets clobbered!


  1. My vote goes to Tasty Little Morsel. The descriptions and details were well crafted and the story was engaging.

  2. I cast my vote for Fern Calloway, mainly due to excellent atmospheric work.


    Fern Calloway - as mentioned above, this piece did an excellent job of creating an eerie atmosphere, and gave me lots of curiosity to keep reading. Who is this character, why are they here? What happened to Little Red? My main critique is just that I don't know how to refer to this character in my head. Are they male or female, neither, both, other? What pronouns should I use to refer to them in my head? The hints in the text seem sometimes contrary, so it left me wondering.

    Lil Manning - this piece has a really strong voice, there's a bit of satire in it that I really enjoyed. My main critique is that I would have liked a little bit more showing of the family's reaction instead of explanations with single pieces of dialogue. A small scene where the character is eating a veggie burger and her family is all looking at her, things like that. I realize that's difficult in the time constraints, but I think removing some of the other pieces to add in small scenes like that would make this piece more powerful.

  3. Congratulations to both of you on making it into the ring!

    Lil Manning--you tackled humor, which is always a risk because it is so subjective. This fell flat for me. I think the potential is there and the word limit may have played a factor. I think Marissa Halvorson is correct with her advice in including the family's reaction in this piece, as it comes off purely as telling. I need some showing.

    Fern Calloway--I'll be honest that my stomach kind of churned during most of the story, which I know was the point. I'm glad I continued reading.

    My vote is for Fern Calloway.

  4. My vote goes to Fern Calloway.

    Humor can be hard to pull off. To me, Lil Manning came off more bitter than funny, and I just didn't enjoy it.

    Fern Calloway came on strong with a unique voice and a twist that makes me want to know not only what happens next, but what REALLY happened at Grandma's house. Very well done.

  5. Congratulations, Contestants! What a thrill to see yourselves up for the first bout of Round 1!

    Lil Manning, your piece reads as an excerpt from a longer narrative nonfiction piece, such as a memoir. You've nailed the voice, and the character your words painted in my head is crystal clear. Perhaps that character is not you or not even the same character you envisioned when you wrote this piece, but you get serious points for voice. If this is an autobiographical piece, I wish you had labeled it as "creative nonfiction" or "memoir" instead of humor because I didn't get the humor. While this sample was fun, I didn't find it funny. Remember, though, humor and tastes are subjective! I find lots of things positively uproarious that others think are mildly amusing at best or completely unfunny at worst. Clearly, your piece wowed the slush readers enough to push you through to the competition. Regardless of my feelings about humor, you've done a great job!

    Fern Calloway:

    Retellings are hard for me, but I really enjoyed this one! The writing is strong and every word is expertly selected and placed. I absolutely want to know what's going on with the wolf. Has he reformed himself and is now a dark protector of children? A hunter of hunters? Or is it possible he sees the hunter as competition and has decided to eliminate the competition so he can have his pick of the kiddos? I don't know and I wish there I had more to read so I could find out!

    My vote goes to Fern Calloway because I want to read more.

  6. Both stories made an impact as I read them.

    For LilManning I found the points/thoughts by the character sympathetic. Everyone should be able to make choices without the drama mentioned. The fact that she was willing to only side dishes shows compromise without preaching. However, it read more as a taking a stand internal dialogue piece than a comedy to me.

    For Fern Calloway wow the creepy menace was excellent here. Lots of story told with small details. Very easy to visualize the story. Just wanted it to keep going. Only sentence that struck me as a little redundant was " I know none of them belong to this huntsman." Based on the previous sentences we know he's a predator, but I get you're demonstrating her moving in for the kill. So maybe something like "I waited for him to lie." It's faster and punchier. Hope to read more! My vote goes to Fern Calloway.

  7. My vote goes to Fern Calloway.

    I didn't really understand Lil Manning's piece - that is, it seemed to be more an irritated email than a piece of humorous fiction.

    Fern Calloway's piece was exactly the sort of story I like, unwrapping itself slowly as the tale goes along. The first sentence lost me, somewhat, though it makes sense when I re-read it. I laughed out loud at 'All of them', as it revealed the message in its entirety. Nice one!

  8. Fern Calloway's "Tasty Little Morsel" was very well done. Disgust came through--I felt it. And I couldn't help but imagine the next scene with the same kind of relish as the narrator. Fern gets my vote.

  9. Both pieces were really enjoyable! For me, Fern Calloway edges out Lil Manning by a hair. x

  10. Congrats to both for making the cut!

    Fern- the subtle word choice here won me over! The piece was filled with such great tension, I'm dying to know more. Good job!

    Lil- The piece read more like a Twitter rant than anything else, and as such, came off preachy and condescending rather than funny. Sorry, it was a total miss for me.

    Fern Calloway gets my vote!

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  12. My vote is for Fern Calloway's Tasty Little Morsel.

    Lil Manning, your unique perspective did come across but unfortunately, a few things are against you.

    (1) The genre you picked, Humor, did not fit what you wrote. If you did intend this to be humorous, I missed it. (That being said, I enjoyed the play on words with Pride-your pride of being a vegetarian vs your pack.)
    (2) Setting aside the genre concerns, this story left me wanting more description and visualization. This felt more like a rant for a slight that hasn’t healed, not a witty tale spun to show off how your Pride was shown they were wrong.
    (3) Whether you made it to round 2 or come back next year, I look forward to seeing how you address the structure of your thoughts as you weave the next story. Take time to show your audience what you see and how others feel, not just the jaded perspective of one character.

    Fern Calloway, your story was a fun twist on an old classic. I enjoyed the fresh perspective and the first person view point of "Granny".

    Again the word limit seemed to hurt the story. Without it, I would have felt like I was at the park and might even been able to smell the faint traces of blood in slight breeze. Alas the word count was there so the scene seemed rushed and the final tie to "Red Riding Hood" was forced. Overall, great job and can’t wait to see what comes next.

  13. I vote for Fern Calloway's nice twist.

  14. My vote is for Fern Calloway. What a delicious fairy-tale retelling! I loved the atmosphere, the growing tension and the malice. Very well done!

    Lil Manning, I'm sorry, but your piece fell flat for me. It wasn't funny and everything presented was stuff I've heard a million times before. I liked the reference to the pack and being a lion, but everything else just came across as preachy.

  15. I vote for Tasty Little Morsel by Fern Calloway! I was thoroughly intrigued by the twist of making the "big bad wolf" into a sort of protector vigilante, and piqued enough by the hints of backstory that I would read more. The writing is competent and engaging throughout, and so it passed the first (and arguably most important) test with flying colors.

    Lil Manning, I have to echo what some of the others have said--I just didn't see the humor. This read more like a social media post with a narrative angle than a piece of fiction, and ultimately lost out on the fine details that would keep me hungry for more (if you'll pardon the figure of speech). Also, from the title, I had set my expectations somewhere totally different--I imagined someone getting kicked out of their own "Pride" event, rather than the pride/lion pride metaphor, and so I was initially jarred by what I started reading (but this perhaps says more about me than it does about the story, haha!)

  16. Lil Manning 🤣 That ending, omg. The story made me want to share a tofu recipe I have. (I'm not a vegetarian, but I like to try new things.)

    Fern Calloway I like the Big Bad Wolf turned hero twist. Defenders of children, even fictional ones, deserve to win. 🏆 So my vote is for you.

  17. Lil Manning -- Comedy is one of the trickiest things to pull off, and the 500-word limit puts pressure on to get your readers on your side right away. I won't beat a dead horse, but it looks like that didn't happen here.

    Fern Calloway -- This was a complete story in 500 words. The scene is well established and the use of Little Red Riding Hood is a great reveal. The last line is perfect. On a personal note, though, what takes this story over the top for me is that you went to more of a Brothers Grimm place with the story. In the age of Disney, we need more of this.
    My vote is for Fern Calloway.

  18. Congrats writers, great way to kick off the competition!

    Lil Manning - This piece had strong voice and good moments of wit, but I kept waiting for a plot twist, like perhaps the vegetarianism was being used as a metaphor for something bigger? Given that your writing skill is sound, I'd recommend focusing on story arc for the next bout or competition.

    Fern - Great take on the oh-so-misunderstood Big Bad. There is a brilliant, tragic backstory wrapped into this that is so much more powerful for it's subtly. We can only assume what happened to Red, but we know this wolf is on a vengeance quest. I actually would have liked more subtly when it came to describing the wolf--the image of an actual canine-in-disguise with pointy ears and a wig pulled me out a bit, especially considering the somber mood of the piece. But I am here for subverted tales and honorable villains, so you get my vote this round!

  19. Lil Manning wrote a good piece about being a vegetarian but I'm not sure the reference to Republicans was needed at the end and I'm sorry to say I didn't find it funny.

    Fern gets my vote because I just loved the Wolf and the bark and the sharp pointy teeth. Excellent piece!

  20. My vote is for Tasty Little Morsel. The use of language was more engaging, the twist was great.

  21. Tasty Little Morsel gets my vote.

  22. My vote goes to Fern Calloway for the nice narrative arc, use of language, and ending twist. Lil Manning's piece was fun but execution less skillful.

  23. Lil Manning, I think there was a good idea in your piece, but I also think it stumbled in the execution. For one thing, it was written all as backstory, with snippets of past conversation. There is no "now" for the reader to get an anchor on, nor is it really clear who the "I" of the narrator is. Also, that vitally important opening sentence is vague and lacks impact: "I've said", "Something", "a few times" are too ambiguous and do little to raise interest in the reader's mind. It's also unclear in what way the narrator is "getting kicked out" of the pride. Other than some griping, there's not enough to justify the thought of being banished -- heck almost all kids grumble about eating vegetables. Plus it's unclear who exactly the "tribe" is -- there was evidently already a divorce, and mention of a daughter and some grandkids. But who is "the whole family"? And who is the "we" who could form a new tribe, other than non-Republicans? I know this is intended as humor, and it has some funny elements, but it seems more about explaining the narrator's position on vegetarianism than really highlighting the humor in the contrast of a vegetarian in a family of meat-eaters. A single scene over a family dinner might be a more immediate and potentially humor-filled way to approach the same premise.

    Fern Calloway does a very good job of establishing a clean scene that the reader can get pulled into. I like the way the story builds on the familiar fairy tale but gives it a modern twist and turns the predator wolf into a defender of children. It makes me interested in learning how the transition takes place. There are a few quibbles I could make here and there, but this piece does a great job of establishing characters, setting, and immediate tension through very economical writing -- plus raising plenty of backstory questions in the reader's mind. I was pulled in and intrigued and eager to keep reading. What more could a writer want?

    My vote goes to Fern.

  24. My vote goes to Fern Calloway. The story kept me engaged and wanting more. I loved the twist at the end.

  25. I will add comments to my vote.

    Fern: I love a good twisted fairy tale and this delivers. The writing is crisp and clear, the story unfolds in unexpected ways, and the scene is set clearly. Good job. I did stumble over the initial sentences, as they seemed unnecessarily fragmented.

    Lil Manning: I didn't find this funny. I wonder if the piece would benefit from a little more focus and unique details, as it felt flat and rambling to me. The writing was fine, if a bit terse and lacking in flow. Given the limited word count for this competition, perhaps you tried to do too much here.

  26. Lil Manning, I didn't see anything humorous in this piece.

    Fern, I loved the suspense. The story had me guessing the whole time.

    My vote goes to Fern.

  27. I prefer Fern Calloway. I was engaged, I had a character to root for, I can imagine what happens next.

    Lil Manning, it was good, but the story didn't resonate with me, personally.

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  29. I vote for Fern Calloway. Very descriptive and engaging.

    Lil Manning-An interesting read, though I did not see the humor nor did I really understand the part about the pride. I think there's potential for this piece to be sardonic and engaging, but right now it's not there.

  30. Both really good stories. I vote Lil Manning because the Little Red Riding Hood retelling speaks to me. I can just picture "Granny" surveying the playground. Gives me chills.

  31. My vote goes to Fern Calloway, although I enjoy both pieces. Sadly, pitting a humor piece against a slight horror piece does Lil Manning no favors, in this case.

    I can relate to Manning's story in a number of ways, even though I'm not vegetarian (but probably could be if it weren't for bacon). I, too, get teary over feed lot scenes and trucks loaded with crates of chickens and turkeys. On I-81, in Southwest Virginia. Still, the comments here about doing more showing of the changing dynamics in the family unit/pride, versus telling, are on point. I think this piece could be sharpened and have a better outcome.

    A Tasty Morsel is so good, I've read it a number of times. I'm hooked by the predator (Big Bad Wolf) hunting a predator (child abuser or worse). The hints of love and grief over Little Red's death are a fascinating twist on the old tale. I'm still left with questions ... which is probably the point. Very well done.

  32. The first piece was more diatribe than humor. Humor is difficult, especially comparing lifestyles. Try reading well known humorous authors like Will Rogers, Erma Bombeck, Mark Twain. They are the oldies, and controversial, but an education in social humor.

    My vote goes to Tasty Morsel. A good retelling.

  33. Congratulations to both writers. You did it!

    Lil Manning:

    Fun essay. I found it very relatable, especially in this day of fraught family relationships. I was hoping for a bit of insight into what eating meat means to the narrator and why she loves animals so much. It might be more compelling if we understood earlier that it’s concern for animals that’s driving the narrator and not just the so-so taste of the burger.

    Fern Calloway

    I love a good fairytale retelling. Good tension and vivid detail throughout. I see how the hunter would be the worse predator of the two. Is the story implying that the wolf ate Little Red and now regrets it? I was waiting for a clue about why she (he?) has now become a children’s champion. But maybe we’d get that if the story continued.

    My vote goes to Fern Calloway.

  34. Tasty Little Morsel gets my vote! I'm intrigued by the world being set up here and would read more to find out what's going on. Seems almost like the narrator could be some sort of vigilante that takes revenge on pedophiles, but then there's Red's demise at narrator's hands (paws?). . . I would definitely read more to enjoy the creativity and new take on a classic.

    Lil Manning, your descriptions of "breaking up" with different kinds of meat were original and engaging. I have to say that I'm looking for a total break with politics/culture wars when I read these days. I wanted to find that here, but that's not where the piece went. I think this could be revised and come out very well!

  35. While I love both stories Tasty Little Morsel gets my vote as I found the opening hook to be stronger and the tension higher throughout the story. Lil Manning was engaging and may have prevailed against a different story but Tasty Little Morsel keep the reader closer to the edge of their seat.

    Congrats to you both however for getting into the ring as many other didn't make the cut!

  36. Great start to this year's rounds and congratulations for being selected!
    Lil Manning - your voice is clear. I could imagine the inner dialogue (and actually identify with it, as well!). At times, it was a bit loose, but the idea was solid. Well done!

    Fern Calloway - I was intrigued from the start and you skillfully kept my attention as little details started to reveal them selves. I liked the twist, but I wanted just a little more punch. Overall, great entry!!

    My vote goes to Fern Calloway.

  37. Great competition! Fern is the victor.




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